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Missing man in west Japan tried to rescue people stranded along swollen river

Hisao Sakai is seen in this photo provided by his family.

WAKAYAMA -- Authorities on June 3 continued to search for two people who went missing in the heavy rain brought by Typhoon Mawar and the weather front the day before along the Makuni River in Wakayama Prefecture, while recovery work from landslides and flooding continued.

    One of the two unaccounted for is Hisao Sakai, 72, from the city of Kinokawa. He served as the head of the neighborhood association and played other leadership roles in the community, and local residents called him "a kind-hearted person with a sense of responsibility."

    Shortly past noon on June 2, when the Makuni River began to overflow, Sakai left his home in an upland area with ropes in his hands to rescue people who were still left in their homes along the river. He was apparently subsequently swept up in muddy waters.

    Sakai's wife Kiyoko, 69, said, "My husband is the kind of person who is willing to help others more than anyone else. As police officers and firefighters are desperately searching for him, I have no choice but to wait for them to contact me."

    The Sakais used to run a dry-cleaning shop in the city of Sakai in neighboring Osaka Prefecture, before moving to Kinokawa in 1995. The couple have been leading a tranquil life while growing black soybeans and astringent persimmons in a field along a nearby river.

    The Makuni River is one of the most famous spots for viewing fireflies in Wakayama Prefecture. "A friend was coming to visit our home to see fireflies on June 4, and my husband was looking forward to it," Kiyoko said.

    A woman who lives in the neighborhood wished for his safe return, saying, "Everyone around here has been helped by Sakai in some way or other. I hope he will be found."

    (Japanese original by Rihi Anzai, Wakayama Bureau)

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